PORTLAND, Ore – The next time you walk into a Portland bar and glance up at the TV, odds are you’ll see the closed captioning turned on. That’s because a new city ordinance that starts Friday requires televisions in public places to show captions at all times.
At On Deck sports bar in the Pearl District, that means all 25 televisions will now feature closed captioning whenever the bar is open.
“I thought it was crazy,” said owner Dani Rosendahl.
She wants to accommodate customers with hearing problems, but says forcing closed captioning on every television solves a problem that does not exist in her bar.
“I’ve never had anyone ask me to put closed captions on the TVs,” Rosendahl said.
She said that customers complained once when a TV broke and they couldn’t turn off captions.
“It gets in the way of scores, it gets in the way of plays,” Rosendahl said.
Philip Wolfe with the Portland Commission on Disabilities helped draft the new ordinance.
“I feel like an outcast,” said Wolfe, who is deaf. “I’m always the last person to get information.”
He argued the ordinance is a matter of basic fairness.
“Deaf people, they want equal access to what the hearing people are sitting and watching,” Wolfe said.
“They’ve got access to it but deaf people don’t. That puts them at a disadvantage.”
He said some deaf people are too intimidated to ask a bartender to turn on captions, which is why the rule was necessary.
Rosendahl said the city ignored a group of business owners who tried to stop or at least modify the requirement.
“We believe this decision was made outside of any good faith effort on the part of the City Council to work with the hospitality industry on a viable solution that recognizes the needs of all individuals,” said Jason Brandt, CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who spearheaded the change, said her staff met with the restaurant association but decided to move forward after residents expressed support during a town hall in September.
“Most of us agreed that we would not be opening up another restaurant any time soon,” Rosendahl said. “Any time we turn around there’s another issue we have to deal with that is not making it friendly for business here.”
As for Wolfe, he said Portland should be celebrated for making information on TVs in public places accessible for everyone.
“This is a great step forward in making the world a more equitable place for those among us who have hearing disabilities,” Fritz said. “I expect that this requirement will soon be the norm across the country. Universal access is the right policy choice.”